January 17: Narrative Traditions I

To Do This Week

read: The Poetics, by Aristotle  (pgs 1-60)

blog prompt*:  In Fargo, how does the plot set in motion the actions and reactions of the main characters? What do these actions reveal about the inner lives of the characters, about their flaws and transformations? Identify and describe other characteristics of a tragedy of tragic structure (from Aristotle’s Poetics) that you observe in Fargo. Quote from the text.

*Blog posts will be weekly 250-500 word reflections on the readings and viewings. With readings, please do include quotes as a blockquotes in the formatting menu and, if you want, links using the link tool. To add images, you can upload using the “Add Media” button in the menu (top left). To post a video from YouTube or Vimeo just paste the url on its own line and it will become a player.


WordPress issues…

discuss Fargo – dramatic structure

discuss Aristotle’s Poetics


Fargo Characters:

Jerry Lundegaard
Marge Gunderson

Jean Lundegaard
Shep Proudfoot
Gaear Grimsrud
Carl Showalter
Wade Gustafson
Mike Yanagita
Norm Gunderson

  1. How is Fargo’s plot structured? – what are the actions and reactions?
  2. What is the story world? How is the story world conveyed visually?
  3. What are the important plot points – the points of change in the narrative?
  4. What are the important story elements – the parts of the narrative that reveal the inner transformation of the character
  5. What is the exposition  – the backstory?
  6. How would you segment the narrative into sections or “acts”?
  7. What is the “inciting incident” – the event that moves the narrative forward?
  8. What is the climax of the story?
  9. What is the resolution?
  10. How is suspense or anticipation created for the reader?
  11. What are the gaps in the story? What is left unsaid? And why are these important for the narrative effect?

Opening > Jerry in Bar
Marge and Norm morning

Is Fargo a tragic plot? Or a comedy? A tragic-comedy?
And why is Mike Yamagita in this story?

What is Dramatic Storytelling: Slide Talk

Notes from talk:

Greek Tragedy
-began as ritual in honor of god Dionysus (tragoedia mean “goat-song”)
– officially recognized in 534 BC
-ekstasis: “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere” from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand, or a standoff of forces”
– contest between three playwrights over three days, sunrise to sunset
– Integral with democracy, unity in difference, understanding terrible/comic decisions of citizens
– Tragedy – downfall of a hero/heroine by hubris, fate or will of gods

Aristotle Poetics, 335 BC
Socrates>Plato>Aristotle – logic, scientific inquiry and methods, classification and taxonomy, aesthetics, literary criticism

Aristotle’s Tragic Plot
– plot = “the arrangement of the incidents” into a whole
– drama vs. narration / show vs. tell (mimesis)
– unity of action (cause and effect chain)
– complex plot: reversal and recognition
– tragedy arouses pity and fear and then purges them (catharsis)

Poets = “Dramatists”

Epic – (narrated) episodic, multiple plots, various places and times, character(s) of a “higher” type
Comedy- character of a “lower” type, , unity of time/place
Tragedy – character of a “higher” type, unity of time/place (24 hrs)

Homer example of doing epic in dramatic method

Part I – V

arts are an imitative process – a mirror to view human nature

imitate men better (tragedy) or worse (comedy) than average

mixed mode – narration and drama (Homer)

of a good size and shape – can be held in the mind as a whole – a single day

Part VI
Tragedy – “imitation of an action” (mimesis), personal agents (actors)

Plot – arrangement of incidents and events, imitations of action, medium of imitation

Character – “subsidiary to actions”, revealed in actions, character = action, reveal moral purpose

Diction (dialogue/narration) – manner and style
Thought, Spectacle, Song – object of imitation

Part VII
Tragic plot –  imitation of an action that is “complete, whole and of a certain magnitude” beginning, middle, and end ( a “cause-and-effect chain”)
beginning- normal, then inciting incident
middle- complication to climax
end –  resolution,  the “unravelling”,  the dénouement
“neither begin or end at haphazard”
“orderly arrangement of parts” and “of a certain magnitude” (length) that can be “easily embrace by the memory”
a sequence of events “according to the law of probability or necessity” will admit of a change



“Unity of plot… is not…unity of hero”
sequence of actions that make a whole – as one
if any action is removed, “the whole will be disjointed and disturbed”
single action, whole and complete

Part IX
“what has happened and what may happen – what is possible according to law of probability or necessity”
not history! history = particular
poetry and drama = universal
“of all plots, the episodic are the worst” because episodes or acts succeed one another without probable or necessary sequence
Tragic plot – events inspiring fear or pity that come as surprise and still follow cause and effect or “air of design” – (no coincidences)

Part X and XI
simple plots – change of fortune
complex plots- Reversal of the Situation or Recognition or both, the element of surprise
Reversal of the Situation – “a change by which the action veers round to its opposite”
Recognition – change from ignorance to knowledge, recognition of persons, from incidents themselves
Scene of Suffering – destructive or painful action

“pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune”
“fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves”
change from good to bad fortune coming “from error or frailty” not “vice or depravity”

Part XIV
“the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place”
don’t rely of the spectacular for tragic effect
killing a loved one, consciously or in ignorance, for example

Part XV
Character – good (even a woman!!), propriety (what is appropriate), true to life, consistent (consistently inconsistent)
portrayal of character – what is necessary or probable
complication and unraveling of plot must not be brought about by Deus ex Machina (“god from the machine”)
nothing irrational in actions

Complication – beginning of the action to turning-point
Unraveling or Denouement – from beginning of change to the end
Both arts should be mastered

Three Act Structure 
Act 1: (20-25min)
– exposition, normal life, intro to characters
-inciting incident, protagonist(s) has a choice of how and whether to act
Act 2: (20-60min)
– complications stemming from actions, cause and effect chain
– point of no return (protagonist committed to action)
– the twist and the protagonist understanding what needs to be done (reversal and recognition)
Act 3: (20-25min)
– unraveling or denouement
-resolution and closure



Who is Kate Chopin?

Read story in class: Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin

What is the story about? How would you characterize the narrative?

free indirect discourse: involves both a character’s speech and the narrator’s comments or presentation

Describe the plot…
simple plots : circumstances change but the characters don’t
complex plots: change in circumstances produces change in characters

tragic plot + modern subjectivity

In-class Questions:

  • How would you segment the narrative into sections or “acts”?
  • What is the “inciting incident” – the event that moves the narrative forward?
  • What is the climax of the story?
  • What is the resolution?
  • How is suspense or anticipation created for the reader?
  • What are the gaps in the story? What is left unsaid? And why are these important for the narrative effect?
  • What are the important plot points – the points of change in the narrative?
  • What are the important story elements – the parts of the narrative that reveal the inner transformation of the character, Louis?
  • What is the exposition of Louise’s past relationship with her husband – the backstory?

Generating Stories

Create a new “Story of an Hour” using ChatGPT.

  1. Enter the story text and ask the AI to summarize it into a 300 word paragraph.
  2. Then ask the AI to change the plot to something contemporary or in the future. Describe something of characters and setting – what you want changed.
  3. Keep adding your creative input prompts to refine a new plot summary based on Story of an Hour

5 Story Summaries (5%)

DUE Jan 31st

Write 5 short-story summaries (100-150 words each) within the 5 genre/styles from the list below. These will be projects you might like to pursue as digital stories in this class. 

  1. A story in the the Classical Aristotelian 3-part structure
  2. A story in Kishōtenketsu 4-part structure 
  3. A story in an episodic structure
  4. A story in a surrealist or fantastic mode 
  5. A personal anecdote as a fictional short story

Uploading to the server 

If you do not have your own directory of the server, then email me your projects (when necessary) and I will return a url for you to post on the blog.

cyberduck is recommended as a free ftp for Mac and PC. See below for instructions.

FTP= “file transfer protocol”

  1. Open ftp software
  2. “Open Connection”
  3. Enter the following info:
    servername: dtc-wsuv.org
    username: first initial + last name + the year  started(’18”)  + @dtc-wsuv.org (so, “Sam Jones” would be “sjones18@dtc-wsuv.org”)  – all in lowercase, no spaces or symbols!!
    password: sent to your wsu email, can’t be changed!
  4. If successful, you should be in your personal server directory that has the same name as your username. Now you can either drag the folder and files in that directory or use the “action” menu to “upload”
  5. Please upload folders with the following in all lowercase:  You can always change the folder and file names on the remote server, as you would on your desktop.
  6. Make sure that your default page for the project folder is “index.html”
  7. Check how everything looks on the live absolute URL – for example: http://dtc-wsuv.org/sjones18/blackbird/
  8. If you cannot see images, make sure that your file names and calls to access those files are all lowercase. Servers are case-sensitive!
  9. In the blog, post assignments with the url linking to your project 

Lunch Date, by Adam Davidson (1990)

break down events in terms of character and plot


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